Travelers on the Journey


Homelessness, violence, troubled schools, fraying families - how can people of faith address such deplorable public realities? Through interviews as instructive as they are inspiring, Travelers on the Journey brings readers face-to-face with six socially engaged pastors who serve congregations and communities from rural Arkansas to urban Atlanta.
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Homelessness, violence, troubled schools, fraying families - how can people of faith address such deplorable public realities? Through interviews as instructive as they are inspiring, Travelers on the Journey brings readers face-to-face with six socially engaged pastors who serve congregations and communities from rural Arkansas to urban Atlanta.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802829344
  • Publisher: Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 7/13/2005
  • Series: Pulpit and Pew Ser.
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 230
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Travelers on the Journey

Pastors Talk about Their Lives and Commitments
By Mark D. Constantine

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2005 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8028-2934-1

Chapter One

Margaret McGhee

"Unshouted courage" is the quality of steadfastness, akin to fortitude, in the face of formidable oppression. The communal attitude is far more than "grin and bear it." Rather, it involves the ability to "hold on to life" against major oppositions. It is the incentive to facilitate change, to chip away the oppressive structures, bit by bit, to celebrate and rename their experiences in empowering ways. "Unshouted courage" as a virtue is the often unacknowledged inner conviction that keeps one's appetite whet for freedom. Katie G. Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics

Tell me about yourself.

I was born in December 1953 in Crittenden County over in East Arkansas. It's deep in the heart of the Delta, an impoverished part of the state. I'm the eighth child in a family of sixteen children. We were sharecroppers. We raised anything you could imagine that you wanted to eat. We had hogs and cows to give milk and butter. We had chickens and turkeys. Everything we needed was on that farm.

And your parents?

My mother and father were born in Arkansas and had up to a sixth-grade education, maybe. They were hardworking people. Farming was their life, so all of us chopped and picked cotton and picked okra till our hands were raw. I started work at age six. I was supposed to be a water boy, the person who carries the water for everybody else who's working. The water boy was a good job to have because you didn't put in a full day, not like the people chopping cotton. Carrying water was a lot better than being hunched over cotton. Anyway, when I got to the field on my first day, my light-skinned cousin refused to work. She said that she was going to be the water boy because she was older. So I started working ten hours a day in the fields, when I was six.

I remember chopping next to my mom. She would always help me out on my row and keep me going. I was held to the same production as everybody else, and my mom knew I didn't have the experience to make my quota. That's why she helped me chop my row. I worked from that day forward for the rest of my life.

What did skin color have to do with things?

If you were light-skinned, you were chosen over those who were dark-skinned. Now my maiden name was Nicks. One of my brothers, his wife had part white in her, so all of their children came out real light-skinned. So it was like the dark-skinned Nicks and the light-skinned Nicks. The light-skinned Nicks always got their way. We had to succumb to them. My dad was always a hard worker, and we saved our money. But they flaunted theirs. When they ran out, we had to give them some of ours to help them make it. It always angered me, because when we went to the fields and stopped for lunch, we'd sit down and eat something Mom had cooked to save money. The light-skinned Nicks would go and buy soda pops, crackers, bologna, cheese - all the fancy stuff. And they would laugh at us because we had to eat beans and cornbread that mama had cooked.

Would all your brothers and sisters be in the fields working?

Yes. Everybody who was old enough or big enough to work was out there. Because we were sharecroppers and didn't own a field, the only way we could make a little extra money was to work for somebody else when the first shift was over. Mr. Delaney owned most of the land, so we'd go and work for him. He paid three dollars a day. That's what you could bring back home. Because we were a large family, we made anywhere between forty-two and forty-eight dollars a day. That could go a long way, especially when we got the commodities. You could get cheese, dried flour, cornmeal, and sugar in 25-pound bags. I still remember the taste of the flour.

Now when I think about how hot it was in the fields, I wonder how we did it. I remember wearing big-brim hats. We'd wear socks or gloves on our hands to keep them from burning from the sun. We always wore long sleeves even though it was hot. The wind would come through, and all the wetness from sweating would help keep us cool. I also remember the extreme cold. When we had to go to the fields in the fall of the year when everybody else was in school, there would be ice and snow on the ground. But no matter what, the master said he had to have the cotton out of the field. We would carry matches and extra newspaper and pieces of paper to start a fire because our feet would get so cold they'd be numb. We'd stop and build a fire and warm our hands.

The main reason that all my brothers and sisters and I went to college was because my dad issued us a challenge - we could either do this the rest of our lives or go off and get an education and do something different.

Did you go to school?

I went to school when the school year was still divided because everybody in those parts was a farmer. We went to school in the summer - it was an all-black school - and we were out in the fall because we had to pick cotton. If our work wasn't finished, we couldn't go back to school - even if the school year had started. We had to stay until the work was completed.

As a result, I missed out during those early, formative years when the teachers were teaching the fundamentals. To this day, I have a tough time pronouncing words that I haven't seen. I have to work hard to break words down, and I carry a dictionary with me at all times. I won't go places unprepared, without having done my homework first, and it's rare that I will volunteer to read anything spontaneously in public.

What faith were you raised in?

We were Baptist. My dad was vice-moderator of the district, and he was also a teacher. We enjoyed going to church. It was the only social activity we had beyond seeing people in the fields and talking to people at the store at the end of the day. We couldn't participate in school activities because we always had to come home and go to the fields and work. Church was the only other contact that most black people had with people other than their own families. But church was good. It was enough. There were always plenty of us to make up a choir, and all of us could sing. When we sang, it was powerful. You just knew God was in that place.

God and religion and prayer. That was what our foreparents had, and that's the tradition that's been passed down to me. Our foreparents didn't have money. They worked hard, and they lived off almost nothing. But they were proud people, full of love. What they had was the church. In the old days, those that were enslaved, they would "slip away" in music. They would "steal away" when singing. A certain hum would be the sound of freedom just waiting for them. Prayer and music and church. That was how they survived.

How did those experiences shape how you live and work now?

I learned about hard work ... that's for sure. We were taught to work. My parents told us they never wanted us to have to live so that everything we did was predicated upon someone else. We were required to learn a skill and were taught to work for what we wanted. They made it clear that we were not to steal or do anything that would bring shame on our family. Those were the lessons they instilled in us. I wouldn't know how to act if my husband told me I should go home and sit. I don't think I could do it. I literally don't. I worked all my life, and I enjoy what I do.

It shows.

I don't do it for anyone to brag. I do it because I love it. I'm particularly drawn to the poor, because we were poor. We had everything to eat. Our parents loved us. But we had none of the other things that kids had.

I have a problem with lazy people. You can't stay around me and not move around and do your job. Don't get in my way. I don't want people to hinder what I'm doing. If you're going to help me, then join in with me. I'm here to do a job and to complete that job. I believe that the experiences I had growing up - being discriminated against for being dark-skinned, picking cotton, and singing in the choir - all shaped me into the person I am today. Knowing that I survived it makes me want to keep moving. There are people who make it and get real comfortable. Black folk are like this, just like whites. They'll get the job and maybe a house, and they'll just forget about everybody else. They'll just sit in the house all day and watch TV. That's not me. My hurt makes me want to work harder for the people who haven't made it. God put me in this place to do this work, not to just sit around and watch the time pass. Even after all these years, I can still jump ropes and play with the kids on the playground. I still have the energy to do that.

What happened after you finished with school?

When graduation time came, we left home, running as fast as we could. It wasn't that we weren't loved. We were. But we all knew there was no opportunity for us at home. It's how it was and always will be in the Delta. If you have talent and ambition, you leave. Especially if you're black. The doors of opportunity aren't open wide, waiting for you to just stroll in.

I always wanted to be a teacher because of what I saw in the classrooms when I was growing up. It was disheartening to me. I saw so many discrepancies. I saw teachers favoring light-skinned kids or the kids of teachers. I remember saying at a very young age that if I ever got to be a teacher, I would never push the poor and the lowly back to the side. I would give everybody an opportunity. I saw so many people hurt. I was hurt. I never got a chance to go wash the boards and hand out the papers. The teacher always had her certain picks do that. But I had a way of containing it. I knew from church and from my family that how she treated me said more about her than about me.

How did you get into the ministry?

I had taught school for fifteen years before accepting my call into ministry. In ten of those years, I had visions and dreams about the church, even about how it would look inside. The Lord did not leave anything for me to imagine. He even named the church. For two years before starting the church, I had a Bible class for women at my house. That class grew to fifty women, and we had to find another place. The churches wouldn't let me in because I believed in speaking in tongues, and I was unveiling some things that we tend not to talk about in the Baptist church. The Lord had me at that place, and I knew that I was going to raise up a church that was free to God, not bound by denominations.

I knew God had a call on my life, but I had not accepted it. I was going to do it my way. That's how I ended up with the classes. I said, "Okay, God, I'll teach women. I'll sing. I'll speak at annual days, and maybe that'll satisfy you." That's what I thought I'd do. And I thought that would satisfy his call on me to minister. But during those two years, I still had visions and dreams. The Lord was trying to set this thing in order and in place. I had a vision where I said, "Lord, I don't know if you want me to preach or teach. I don't know what you want me to do."

And that night, I had a vision with three chairs. One chair came through the door of the church. A bigger one came next, and it got stuck. Then a third chair, a smaller one, was trying to get past the big chair. They were squabbling with each other, both trying to get through the door ahead of the other. These three chairs are the three chairs that sit in the pulpit of New Horizon today. What God was showing me was the setup of the pulpit of the church. He had shown me the building. Step by step, he walked me into the church. And this particular evening, I felt this special presence.

I had been in prayer that night. My husband Robert was not home - he had a ball game or something. I was in prayer, and all of a sudden what we would call the Glory filled the room, just an awesome presence of God. I remember my doorbell ringing, and one of my children opened the door. My friend Renee came in, and by the time she got to the door of my bedroom, I said, "Yes, Lord, I do have a witness here." That's the statement Renee said I made. She said I immediately began to speak in tongues and then give the interpretation. I would speak and then turn around and give the interpretation. And she just wrote and wrote until she had about ten pages. She wrote on paper sacks - everything she could get her hands on. If you could see the piece that came out of my mouth, you would know it had to be God. Some of the words weren't even words that I would use.

God told me when I would start the church. He said, "I've called you to raise up a church in this city, and the time will be July 1990." The date and time. He told me what to expect and why he had called me. He told me that the church shall be called New Horizon. And he healed my body of all my infirmities. At that time, I was a diabetic on 87 units of insulin a day. I have not had any insulin since then. I've been healed of diabetes.

Why did God call you?

He said, "My people need somewhere to go where they can be free." The Lord knew about my reluctance about starting my own church. All along, I had been saying to the Lord that there were enough churches in this city. I kept asking him, "Why do you want me to raise up a church? Why can't the others do it?" He told me, "I can trust you." He literally spoke. He said, "I can trust you to do what I've called you to do. I've raised you up for such a time as this." But I argued more. I told the Lord that I didn't want to stop teaching. I'd always wanted to be a teacher, and I felt like if I had a strong anointing, it was in teaching. The Lord said, "You're not going to stop teaching. You're just doing a different kind of teaching."

Why were you reluctant?

Because, for one reason, my husband was a minister. Even though he wasn't a normal Baptist, I knew the problem my being strong and out front would be for him. My dad was a Baptist preacher for forty years, and he had taught against women being pastors. It was what he had been taught, so he went on teaching it as strong as he'd been taught. From hearing my dad all those years, I knew all the arguments that would be used against me. I knew the Baptist doctrine. I knew what they believed. And I knew that I couldn't even remain a Baptist and do what God was calling me to do.

Did your father struggle with your decision?

Yes. But he eventually crossed over and really backed off. I still believe in his own way he struggled with it till the day he died. He just passed a few years ago.

Would he come to your church?

Oh, yes. I preached in his pulpit and carried a whole busload of folks to his church. I think one thing that he struggled with was the fact that I was doing so well. He had been in ministry all these years, and people had never done for him what our people had done for me. He said, "These folk will follow you to your grave." They wouldn't do anything for me that I wouldn't do for them. And they know that. They know my life. They know the sacrifices. They know what I stand for and how far I'm willing to go for them. They know never to get in the way of a strong woman who listens and prays hard to God.

Women are natural movers and shakers. We're strong. One of the biggest problems women face in ministry is jealous men. They'll say all these things about us, trying to get our people to doubt us. They'll say we're not as smart as men, and that we don't know how to manage the finances. Listen, I'm not a dummy. I'm an educator. I graduated summa cum laude from Arkansas Baptist College and have a master's degree in elementary education. I've always been a worker in the church as a singer and a teacher. I know how to talk with bankers, and I know more about lines of credit and tax credits than 95 percent of the pastors out there. I might not have a business degree, but believe me, what I do have is life experience.


Excerpted from Travelers on the Journey by Mark D. Constantine Copyright © 2005 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co..
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction : setting the table 1
Margaret McGhee 21
Greg Dike 47
Cindy Weber 77
Gerald Durley 105
Maria Teresa Palmer 135
David McBriar, O.F.M. 167
Conclusion : equipping the next generation 197
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